Is Pope Francis Right About the ‘Mexicanization’ of Argentina?

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Pope Francis’ recent comparison of Argentina’s drug violence to Mexico’s made some unhappy in Mexico. But it’s not an entirely unfair thing to say.

In a private letter to Gustavo Vera, a politician and mayoral candidate for Buenos Aires, Pope Francis conveyed his personal concerns over increased drug trafficking in his home country of Argentina, writing, “I hope we are in time to avoid Mexicanization. I was speaking with some Mexican Bishops and the situation is one of terror.”

Vera, who directs La Alameda — an NGO that works to combat human trafficking, among other crimes — had apparently written to Pope Francis about his fears over increased crime in Argentina, although the exact contents of his letter are not known, reported Reuters.

During a press conference, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jose Antonio Meade voiced his “sadness and preoccupation” with the Pope’s statements, saying the Mexican government had summoned Christopher Pierre — the Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico — to discuss the issue and declare its intent to send a note to the Holy See.

Meade also said that Mexico is making “great efforts” to combat drug trafficking, and that “rather than seeking to stigmatize Mexico or any other region of Latin American countries,” there needed to be “greater opportunities” to recognize said efforts. 

Catholic priests in Mexico haven’t been immune to the country’s violence. Eight priests were killed in the past two years, according to a Mexican Catholic news service

Many Mexicans had hoped Pope Francis would visit during his upcoming July trip to Latin America, but the country was left off the list.

InSight Crime Analysis

Pope Francis’ comments reflect concern over Argentina’s growing role and involvement in transnational drug trafficking and organized crime.  Over the past few years, Argentina has seen an increased presence of foreign criminal groups — including Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel — which has turned the country into a hub for drug smuggling, production, and consumption. This, in turn, has led to increased levels of violence — especially in the northeastern province of Santa Fe — as rival factions fight over territory.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Argentina

This expansion of criminal activity has led to a popular perception among Argentinians that the issue of organized crime and drug trafficking is getting out of control. Eamonn MacDonagh, an expert in Argentine politics based in Buenos Aires, told InSight Crime that these negative perceptions are reinforced by a view that not enough is being done at a national political level to address the issue. While MacDonagh said he thought Pope Francis’ choice of words was “unfortunate,” he also said the comments responded to general rising concern in Argentina.

To be sure, many Argentinians likely look at the violence experienced in Mexico over the past decade with great apprehension, fearing a similar fate for their own country. Indeed, given the growth of drug trafficking in Argentina, comparisons with Mexico are not entirely unfounded or inappropriate. However, unlike Mexico, Argentina has geography on its side — it’s not located along major drug routes, meaning controlling Argentine territory hasn’t reached the same level of profitability as in Mexico. Nor have criminal structures become as severely entrenched or as powerful as in Mexico. So far, this has allowed Argentina to avoid the extreme levels of violence seen in Mexico.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Nonetheless, the Pope’s comments come at a time when Mexico is under intense international scrutiny due to the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, and the recent release of a UN report documenting the widespread problem of disappearances in the country.

While Mexico has been defending itself from international criticism, the comments by Pope Francis come off as particularly bruising given the widespread respect and power the Catholic Church still holds in Latin America.

Indeed, while Argentina may not exactly be “Mexicanized,” growing levels of criminal activity and an underwhelming government response make the Pope right to be worried over the future of his home country.

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